Will Real Names Make YouTube Friendlier?

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Is the solution to flame wars, copyright protected uploads, and general poor decorum around YouTube simply a matter of introducing name tags?

That's the hope of the company that runs the video-sharing website.

Wired is reporting that Google's (GOOG) fast-growing YouTube service is starting to encourage anonymous users to begin using real names and photos from their Google+ accounts.

The strategy would definitely give a more human presence to the sea of faceless comments that build on top of popular YouTube clips. However, it's a move that may prove to be more idealistic than practical, since names and snapshots aren't verified on Google+ either. And making it happen will still probably be easier said than done.

Three reasons for the switch

Why encourage users to show identification?:

  1. Get more people on board Google+: Google is a business, and Google+ is a fledgling social networking platform. It may have had an encouraging launch last year, but it's still no Facebook (FB) in terms of users and usage. YouTube could be a Trojan horse for the online leader, taking advantage of the video-sharing site's top-dog status to introduce Google+ to the global masses. When you're serving 3 billion hours of clips every month -- for free -- it's not bad idea.
  2. Serve more targeted ads: The company's flagship business is based on generating revenue when someone clicks on appealing ads, so targeting the marketing is essential. The better that Google knows you and your surfing habits the easier it will be to serve up relevant ads.
  3. Something more sinister?: Through its first seven years YouTube has attracted countless viewer comments that are antagonistic and vile. Trolls are common, and even those who are voicing honest opinions would probably think twice about the manner in which they are doing that if their real names were tethered to the responses. Real names -- in theory -- would help clean up the site.


Challenge Accepted

Is it merely a coincidence that this move happens less than four months away from the 2012 presidential election? If you think that YouTube is a hotbed of political disputes now, just wait until the battle for the White House really heats up.

Shifting to real names may help make viewers posting comments more sensitive, just as they would be in real life.

Will Real Names Make YouTube Friendlier?

1. Activision Blizzard (ATVI)

Life was easy when everyone was playing Guitar Hero. Facebook has reinvented the way game-hungry masses spend their time, logging into Facebook to tend to virtual farms, mafia campaigns, or item-finding experiences.

It's not a surprise that the traditional video game industry has been struggling for three years. Market leader Activision Blizzard doesn't even make Guitar Hero games anymore, and its World of Warcraft player count has been steadily declining over the past year. Call of Duty is still a growing franchise, but that can't last forever.

As traditional game companies are struggling, Zynga (ZNGA) -- which accounts for 18% of Facebook's revenue -- is thriving.

Diehard gamers are still firing up their consoles and are toting around their portable gaming systems. The problem is that mainstream gamers -- the casual players who didn't live and die by every franchise's latest release -- have moved on to casual and social diversions. They're free or nearly free, and the viral magic of Facebook connecting friends as players made it possible.

2. Google (GOOG)

Few will suggest that Google is in trouble. The world's most valuable Internet company is worth more than twice the market cap that Facebook is commanding. However, Big G is nervous.

Google's bread and butter business remains paid search, and what happens when folks stop trekking over to Google.com whenever they need to launch a query? If asking friends or simply relying on Facebook's own search box is easier, won't that hurt Google?

There are other ways that Facebook is having an impact on Google.

Google's YouTube may be the world's hottest video-sharing website with more than 800 million monthly visitors, but Facebook also allows its more than 900 million unique monthly users to upload clips on its site to share. We also have Gmail, Google's popular email platform. A lot of people are just sending private messages through Facebook that would normally go through traditional email.

3. Angie's List (ANGI)

Subscribers turn to Angie's List for unbiased reviews. Members pay dues to have access to customer reviews for local service providers. Need a handyman who can fix a pocket door? Is your clogged drain not clearing with your plunger? Who can tutor you daughter for her upcoming college entrance exam?

Angie's List prides itself on the vetted and unbiased opinions that can be found on its site. Well, as fate would have it, these are the same things that can be effectively tackled for free by posting a request as a status update on Facebook.

4. American Greetings (AM)

Remember when shelling out a few bucks for a greeting card was the most cost-effective way to commemorate a special occasion?

Well, thanks to Facebook, offering up birthday wishes or congratulatory acknowledgements is simply a Facebook posting away. Is it cold? Is it impersonal? It doesn't matter. It works. American Greetings has done its part to beef up its digital presence, but analysts still see earnings growth going the wrong way here this fiscal year.

5. Shutterfly (SFLY)

Facebook has also changed the way we consume photographs. We're no longer printing them out, and that's bad news for Shutterfly. The company turns digital snapshots into prints, photo books, and other customized merchandise.

Facebook is a hotbed for the sharing of photos, and that is something that has intensified since its recent acquisition of Instagram.

Shutterfly has managed to grow nicely even as Facebook ascends, but the perception that Facebook is turning Shutterfly and its peers into an elephant's graveyard exists.

All five of these companies may have cheered Facebook's plunge below its $38 IPO price on Monday, but their business models still have to reckon with the beast that the undisputed champ among social networks has become.

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Then again, anyone on Facebook has seen the way that the political rhetoric on personal news feeds has been picking up from both camps anyway. Real names and snapshots won't stop opinions from clashing.

In the end, it's probably largely a move to help Google+ grow its reach.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Facebook. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google.

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